Fantaisies d’opéra
Wolfgang MARSCHNER (b.1926)
Vampire Variations, after Heinrich Marschner’s ‘Der Vampyr’ (2009) [13:28]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Walküre: The Annunciation of Death Scene (2009) transcribed for violin and piano by Léo Marillier (2013) [18:30]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Faust Fantasy, fantaisie brillante on themes from Faust by Gounod, Op.20 (1865) [17:47]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Reminiscences of Don Juan, transcribed for violin and piano by Léo Marillier (2012) [15:26]
Léo Marillier (violin)
Alexandre Lory (piano)
rec. June-July 2013 and January 2014, Studio Forgotten Records, Rennes

The young French violinist Léo Marillier dons the mantle of nineteenth-century transcriber-executants for half the length of this programme, bidding fair to become the Wieniawski de nos jours. Not content with that he actually plays Wieniawski’s Faust-Fantaisie as well as updating the genre by including Wolfgang Marschner’s 2009 Vampir-Variations, which the composer himself took from the opera of his namesake Heinrich, Der Vampyr. All this is heady stuff. The recording cackles with virtuosity and big-boned brilliance.

Marillier and his youthful pianist colleague Alexandre Lory make a fine pairing. The violinist has earned Marschner’s imprimatur, his comments cited in the booklet, for his performance of the variations and one can certainly hear why he was ‘predestined to perform this operatic fantasia for violin’ as he draws together its improvisatory freedoms with flexibility, taking care to attend to its expressive paragraphs. Marillier’s 2013 transcription from Die Walküre was completed with significant help from Lory, duly acknowledged in the notes. The result is a redefinition and clarified balance between themes, which are predominantly, of course, slow. It’s this sense of solemnity that the duo has to convey, and it’s not easy to retain absolute concentration over an eighteen-minute span. I suspect that this is too long for concert performance - I might be wrong - though there is no doubting the commitment of the performers.

Wieniawski is one of the nineteenth-century lodestars for arrangements of this kind and he did similar work on Gounod’s Faust, creating a cracking fantasie. Marillier has a real instinct for projection and for getting music across, and he cultivates a fine sense of legato in this piece. Marillier’s second transcription is of Liszt’s Réminiscences de Don Juan, completed in 2012. The exchanges between violin and piano are well judged, and there is plenty of vivacity and sparkle during the eventful quarter-of-an-hour, and quite some virtuosity too.

There is one demerit in all this. The recording venue is boxy and dry and sometimes the balance is not quite judged correctly so that for passages in the Marschner, for instance, the violin sits some way aurally behind the piano. There is no cushioning of sound, so that the violin in particular is resinous and dry-toned. It also serves to exacerbate passing technical and intonational problems. All that acknowledged, I am interested to see if other performers pick up on Marillier’s transcriptions.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank